Author Archives: Anna Young

A member’s perspective of the Diversity & Inclusion Forum

charissa-huangAttorney Charissa Huang looked around the packed house at the Chamber’s Diversity and Inclusion Forum on November 18 and felt “a sense of relief.

As the Diversity & Inclusion Officer at Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge, Huang often feels isolated. That is not true within her firm, which actually includes Diversity & Inclusion in its organizational charter and by-laws.

Instead, Huang said, “it is not every day you get to hang out with other D&I people.”

“Diversity and Inclusion is a struggle for all organizations trying to hire diverse talent. But at the Forum, I saw that everyone is in this together. A lot of people there were interested and engaged and trying to make the workplace and the community more inclusive.”

The Chamber’s Diversity & Inclusion Forum brought together three national experts with presentations designed to encourage learning and discussion on ideas, plans and methods to promoted inclusion in the workplace.

Keynote speaker Mary-Frances Winters said, “Inclusion is about the opportunity to participate, to come to a place and feel appreciated for who you are. It should be something that is integrated into your every day.”

To be more inclusive, she explained, we need to understand ourselves first, become more self-aware. “All of us come from our own values systems and beliefs, and so do the other people whom we meet. We need to realize that, and work to break down barriers to find mutual understanding.”

Dr. Alan Richter’s breakout session, “Heads, Hearts and Hands” presented a systemic approach to understanding the cognitive, emotional and behavioral needs of people with whom we interact.

Marguerite Fletcher conducted a breakout session entitled “Diversity & Inclusion Strategies for Leaders.” She advised participants to challenge their assumptions about people who are different, conduct anonymous surveys of employee experiences with D&I and
broaden the group of people with whom we socialize at work, and network outside our organization.

Charissa Huang found especially eye-opening a breakout session she attended that challenged participants to “become” a hypothetical person from a different race or culture.

“It was interesting that people were more comfortable selecting their own race or culture and its challenges with which they were familiar.”

The learning opportunities came in discussing how personal perceptions and potential bias surfaced when people selected “identities” outside their own race or culture.

To continue your own education and growth, join the critical conversation in one of the Institute for Healing Racism: Facing Racism programs in 2017.

Find Your Place with Chamber Affinity Groups

The secret is out. Grand Rapids is a city on the rise and you live here!


Get tapped into the local scene with fresh connections through the Chamber. We’re here to help foster the relationships and create the spaces so you can dig deep roots into the community. Here are a few options—for you, your new hires, and your long-time talent!

Inside Grand Rapids

Get a behind-the-scenes look into Grand Rapids and what drives us as a magnetic, top-of-mind region. We’ll be diving into the city’s history, growth of downtown, and arts and entertainment culture on May 24, 2016. Offered every quarter or so. Join the tour at

“I couldn’t believe how many things I learned about the city even after growing up here. It’s certainly something that anyone new or wanting to learn more about the community should do!” — Mike Kerkorian, Heart of West Michigan United Way

Black Women Connect GR

After one year of gathering, this affinity group of professional black women has created a lively and engaged community—in person and online. Follow the discussion with over 1,220 women in the Facebook group or meet up at an event. On June 20, 2016 we’re throwing a garden party to celebrate our first anniversary! RSVP or connect via


Created just for LGBT professionals and allies, OutPro continues to grow as an outstanding experience. Monthly events and diverse Facebook discussions create dynamic opportunities for both social and professional networking in a fun environment. With two stellar events coming up—a comedic brunch with David Sedaris May 15, 2016 and a Broadway Grand Rapids show (Book of Mormon) on June 23, 2016—there’s no better time than now to go out with OutPro! Sign up at

This article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of The Chamber News, written by AliciaMarie Belchak, Senior Communications Specialist at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Visit to find more thought leadership like this.


Creating Connections & Community: You Belong Here!

Nearly 11,000 people call upon the Chamber each year to get connected, reach decision-makers, and grow successful businesses and careers right here in the greater Grand Rapids area. Why not you?

You Belong Here!

No matter who you are or where you are, having a sense of belonging and being part of a larger community is essential. Famed psychologist Abraham Maslow even cites it in his hierarchy of basic human needs, and studies over the decades have reinforced belonging as a key to happier, healthier people and stronger, more supportive societies.

“A sense of belonging helps to create a thriving community. People who feel like they
belong work very hard to make Grand Rapids a great place to live and work,” said Mike
Kerkorian, vice president of Resource Development at Heart of West Michigan United Way.

Today more than ever, we live in a fast-paced world with an always-on mentality driven by a stream of information and social media. Swimming in our busyness, it’s easy for the human psyche to start creating a sense of separation or “otherness” for us. That’s why returning to meaningful relationships and generating new networks of people and places is crucial for our well-being and productivity.

“We do have people who feel excluded and the community needs to continue to work on being inclusive,” Kerkorian added. “It’s been exciting to see Grand Rapids start to have those conversations and step in the right direction. There are so many opportunities for gathering and sharing in common experiences.”

Here are a few stories from those who have found their unique path to belonging through the Chamber—and benefited from the supportive connections, thoughtful conversations, and new (or renewed) inspiration they were looking for.

I Found a Unique Space to Build Relationships

“The Chamber has been a wonderful conduit for many initiatives in Grand Rapids including Black Women Connect. The group has been a great way to connect with women both professionally and personally.” — Angela Nelson, Amway

I Discovered My Inner Leader

“The Chamber introduced me to so many wonderful people through their leadership development programs. I was able to find out about different organizations that I had no idea were in the community. Got plugged into a lot of different volunteer opportunities and now I’m actually sitting on boards for both Saint Mary’s Foundation and Habitat for Humanity of Kent County. I would never have been connected to those organizations without my experience going through the Chambers leadership development programs.” — Lizzie Williams, Open Systems Technologies (OST)

I Can Make a Difference

“The Chamber has helped me as a young professional build my network in Grand Rapids. One way that they did that was through the Emerging Leaders Series that I did last year. I really benefitted from this program by meeting other young professionals like myself that were looking to expand and do greater things in Grand Rapids.” — Shauna VanderStel, Northwood University

My Community is Diverse

“When I saw that the Chamber of Commerce was doing this (OutPro), that in itself was huge because it wasn’t like just a couple of people got together at a bar and decided to create a networking opportunity – because there are lots of those. This was the city of Grand Rapids saying this is important to us and that people like me matter.” — Mira Krishnan, PhD, OutPro council member, formerly of Hope Network

My Connections are Stronger

“I enjoy Politics & Pints because it gives me a great way to connect with people that I wouldn’t normally spend time with or meet up in my social circles or in the community that I work. It’s a great way to build relationships and to even grow and find other people that share an interest in similar things I do—and maybe get introduced to new ideas.” — Emily Post Brieve, Kent County Commissioner, 10th District

I Found a Welcoming Home

“I moved back to Grand Rapids about five years ago after living on the east coast for almost 15 years. It was a very different Grand Rapids when I returned, but I quickly got connected with both the Chamber and another professional organization. Both groups welcomed me and I quickly felt like a part of the community again. I encourage anyone who wants to make Grand Rapids their home and feel connected to attend community events, volunteer, find a mentor, or join a group.” — Mike Kerkorian, Heart of West Michigan United Way

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber nurtures a vibrant community that promotes inclusion, innovation, and growth…and most importantly, provides a place where Grand Rapids business leaders and professionals feel like they belong.

Make the Chamber a part of your success story too. Contact us for community and talent engagement ideas and leadership development assistance.

A version of this feature article first appeared in the May 2016 edition of The Chamber News, written by AliciaMarie Belchak, Senior Communications Specialist at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Visit to find more thought leadership like this.


Chamber Survey: Health Care and Talent Top Concerns for West Michigan Businesses

Grand Rapids, MI—Results of a public policy survey released today by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce show the cost of health care continues to be the top concern for members heading into 2016 for the fourth year in a row. Difficulty finding qualified talent was cited as the number two concern for the second year in a row. The ranking of the two issues are much closer than in previous years.

The annual survey was completed by nearly 700 members.

gr chamber results“The feedback we received from our members is critical to inform our efforts to eliminate obstacles to business success,” said Rick Baker, President and CEO of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “Momentum continues to build in the Grand Rapids business community, and we need to continue to focus on policy that supports a healthy business climate. These results reinforce the work we are doing on both health care and talent.”

This year the Chamber survey dug deeper into health care and talent to better understand member concerns.

On the health care front: If costs were contained, 57 percent reported that they would increase wages and 34 percent reported they would hire more employees. There was also strong support for increased price transparency and reducing the burden of compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“The message from members has been clear and consistent on health care. In 2016, the Chamber will remain fiercely opposed to additional health care mandates and efforts to extend or increase the uncompetitive Health Insurance Claims Assessment Tax,” commented Andy Johnston, vice president of Government & Corporate Affairs for the Chamber. “Lansing policymakers need to take note of the impact this continues to have on job providers.”

On the talent front: 80 percent responded that their firm80 percent business growth hired and/or added new positions in the last 12 months due to business growth.

Businesses continue to struggle to find qualified applicants, however, and responses on that issue increased from 51 percent in 2014 to 61 percent this year. As a result, members noted that they used multiple strategies to fill open positions:

  • 71 percent increased their recruiting efforts
  • 32 percent increased wages to attract more qualified talent
  • 32 percent trained current staff to fill the position
  • 31 percent hired less qualified workers
  • 27 percent increased overtime for current employees

Thirty-one percent responded that positions were not filled because they could not find qualified talent. When it comes to finding qualified employees, social media replaced recruiting events as the top tool.

“We remain committed to addressing these issues from a policy perspective,” said Allie Bush, former Director of Government Affairs. “We will continue to advocate on behalf of our members in support of creating a strong talent system from early childhood education to the K-12 system as well as programs like Michigan’s Skilled Trades Training Fund that raise the capabilities of our existing workforce.”

On the local level, members supported funding for infrastructure and core services as priorities.

“The Chamber will continue working with our local government partners to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent effectively,” said Josh Lunger, director of Government Affairs. “Michigan’s economic recovery has taken some pressure off local government budgets, but wise investment remains critical to help us address legacy costs and better prepare us for the next rainy day.”

Other top issues that garnered support in the survey include: access to primary care for employees, affordable energy, invasive species, high school graduation rates, skilled-trades training, and public transit.

A summary of the survey can be found at


About the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce

The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce leads the business community in creating a dynamic, top-of-mind West Michigan region. Together with over 2,500 member businesses (80% of which are small businesses with fewer than 50 employees), we work to expand the information, influence, and access required to actively encourage entrepreneurial growth and community leadership. We offer the connections, resources, and insights needed to develop strong leaders, engage a diverse workforce, foster an inclusive and welcoming community, and advance a vibrant business environment that nurtures economic prosperity for all. Learn more at

The Benefits of Leadership Advantage: An Alumni Perspective

If you take a few moments to chat with a Leadership Advantage alum, you’ll quickly learn how the program made an impact in his or her career and personal life, including:

  1. Increased Courage, Confidence and Empowerment

“Thanks to Leadership Advantage, I do speak up and voice my opinions or concerns when necessary, and it has made me a better leader at work and at home.” – Jorge Gonzalez (LA ’10)

  1. Discovery of Authentic Leadership Style

“The part that still resonates with me is the idea of Authentic Leadership. One cannot lead without knowing the right path, always trying to appeal to many different constituencies at the same time.” – Carlos Sanchez (LA ’12)

  1. Valuable Transferable Leadership Skills

“My Leadership Advantage experience continues to pay off in my life in a myriad of ways— whether in a committee meeting, working with officials at a race, or even and most importantly, in my role as a wife and mother.” – Melissa Workman (LA ’14)

Leadership Advantage is your opportunity to transform your best talents into a solid leadership foundation through critical thinking, dialogue, peer-to-peer coaching, and inter-sector/inter-disciplinary learning. Don’t wait to apply! The deadline for applications is 5 p.m. on Monday, January 18, 2016.

To apply or learn more, visit

Questions? Contact Michelle Glover for more information.

Insurance Liability: Using a Personal Vehicle for Business Use

It may not seem like a big deal for you to use your personal car or truck on the job. But if you cause an accident, it can be financially devastating if you are not protected.

Depending on whether your personal auto insurance policy contains a “business-use” exclusion, your liability insurance may not cover the car accident and you may be personally liable for damages to anyone who was injured in the crash.

“Business-use” exclusions are included in most personal auto insurance policies in Michigan and allow the insurance company to deny liability coverage for accidents caused by the insured person while using her personal car or truck for business purposes.

Under Michigan law, an automobile insurance company can set its premium rates based on whether an insured person intends to use her vehicle for business purposes. If an insured person reveals that they plan to or may use their vehicle for “business purposes,” then the insurer may charge a higher premium on their personal auto insurance policy.

Your best protection is to contact your insurance agent and discuss how you use your vehicle and together you can both come up with a solution to ensure you are protected in the event of an auto accident.

Michigan Auto Law helps people seriously injured in Michigan auto accidents with five offices throughout the state, including one in Grand Rapids.  For more information on protecting yourself visit our Grand Rapids Local Resources page.

5 Easy Steps to Create Employee Brand Advocates for Your Business

There are many ways to create influence for your business. Whether it’s offering an amazing product or implementing a PR strategy, the opportunities are endless. However, there’s one tool your business might be overlooking: The power of employee brand advocates.

Your employees have an incredible opportunity to increase your brand’s reach. Whenever they speak positively about your business, offer recommendations or create engagement through different social channels, they’re supporting your brand. In fact, research shows brand messages are re-shared 24x more frequently when distributed by employees.

Employee brand advocates have the ability to boost your company’s reputation, which means more opportunities to attract clients, customers and irreplaceable talent. Ready to transform your employees into your best advocates? Here are some ways to get started:

1. Create a planned onboarding strategy. 

Transforming employees into brand advocates starts with grabbing their attention the moment they’re hired. According to a Forbes article by James Kelly, U.S. brand leader at PwC LLP, the strength of a company’s brand is greatly influenced by the values and behaviors of its employees. Kelly also explained that it’s crucial for employee evangelists to be an essential part of your overall branding strategy.

Design an onboarding strategy that teaches employees about your organization’s mission, goals and communicates their value as a member of your team. Incorporate tools such as ongoing training, classes, certifications or professional development workshops into your onboarding program.

2. Clearly communicate your company culture.

Before employees can promote your business, they need to understand the company as a whole. In addition to onboarding, provide new hires with one-on-one meetings with different leaders throughout the organization where they can receive an overview of company policies, goals and communication procedures.

3. Encourage employees to be active on social media.

A 2014 study by Weber Shandwick found 50% of employees post photos, messages or videos about their employers. Establish a social media policy encouraging employees to tell a story about your organization through their perspective. Provide them with social media messaging and ideas for photo opportunities.

4. Give employees opportunities to be advocates.

Social media is just one of the many tools employees can use to advocate for your organization. Encourage employees to volunteer in the community and attend events that can help boost exposure for your business. For example, send employees to networking events such as the Chamber’s Business Exchange Luncheon where they can connect with the local business community.

5. Reward employees for their hard work.

Don’t let your employees’ brand advocacy go unnoticed. When an employee lands a client because of their advocacy, reward them for their hard work. Whether it’s recognizing them in front of the entire company, through a congratulatory email or giving them a gift card, make sure you recognize employees in an impactful way.

Remember, your employees are your company’s brand. Whenever they post a photo on social media or tell a friend about work, they’re contributing to the overall reputation of your organization. By harnessing the power of employee brand advocates in your marketing strategy, you’ll expand your reach and establish trust with more customers.

This article was first published in the July 2015 issue of the Chamber News, written by Olivia Adams, Communications and Social Media Specialist at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. For more thought leadership like this, visit  

Employee Activists Spark a New Social Movement in the Digital Age, According to Groundbreaking Global Study from Weber Shandwick

Infographic: Social Employee Advocacy

Employee Training: ‘Brandable’ Moments

How to Become a Transformational Leader

Transformational leadership is a type of leadership style that can inspire positive changes in those who follow. Transformational leaders generally are able to successfully inspire people, teach others how to solve problems and are committed to creating change. They also use their passion, charisma and vision to make a positive impact.

Teresa-Weatherall-NealOne transformational leader who’s making a difference in the community is Teresa Weatherall Neal, Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent. She’s inspiring decision makers, business owners, families and local residents to improve the Grand Rapids public schools system through its Transformation Plan.

Whether it’s in your business or community, here are some ways to become a transformational leader:

Create a vision and find your purpose.

Transformational leadership begins with a vision, which will eventually serve as a tool for inspiring others. Weatherall Neal explained “you can’t lead what you don’t believe in.”

Once you’ve identified your vision, determine why you want to spark change. For Weatherall Neal, she created a vision to turn around GRPS and transform it into a top performing school district.

“I’m leading because education is a social good. I’m here because it’s the right thing to do for Grand Rapids,” said Weatherall Neal. “If you don’t see your business as a social good, you won’t be able to successfully lead. People will only follow you if you believe in your business.”

Collaborate with others.

Relationships play a powerful role in successful transformational leadership. “Leading with the heart in mind starts with relationships,” said Weatherall Neal. “Bring your vision to others and help people understand the urgency of [your] need.”

When the Transformation Plan initially launched, Weatherall Neal had to build relationships with students, teachers, administration, parents, business leaders and community members. By creating these relationships, she was able to gain valuable feedback on her vision for GRPS and motivate others to see value in the Transformation Plan.

Invest in talent.

Another key element of transformational leadership is investing in talent. Especially if you’re trying to improve your business or community, you need to have the best team.

In an effort to create a stronger school system, Weatherall Neal made it a priority to hire better teachers, principals and administrative staff. To accomplish this, GRPS hired a talent acquisition manager to locate top talent and created a budget for recruitment.

Today, Grand Rapids Public Schools is one of the only urban districts in Michigan to have successfully turned around. Over the last 41 months, GRPS has experienced increased attendance and enrollment. In fact, City High School is ranked as the top high school in Michigan and 83 in the United States. These accomplishments were only possible because of Weatherall Neal’s commitment to her vision, the relationships she created and her ability to inspire others.

This information is taken from Teresa Weatherall Neal’s presentation, “Transformational Leadership,” at the May 2015 Business Matters Series and was first published in the June 2015 issue of The Chamber News, written by Olivia Adams, Communications and Social Media Specialist at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Visit to find more thought leadership like this.